Take a walk around San Francisco’s glamorous Ferry Plaza Farmers Market or flip through the new Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market Cookbook (sniffily subtitled “A Comprehensive Guide to Impeccable Produce”), and you might think Northern California’s small farms do nothing but cherish the perfect microgreens and heirloom peaches for fat-wallet Bay Area bohemians. Don’t get us wrong: Farming, especially on a small, organic scale, is tough work, and no one’s getting rich doing it, even if they do charge $5 a pop for that special tree-ripened peach. But nutrition shouldn’t come down to fancy fruit for the wealthy and empty-calorie bodega snacks—or drab government-surplus commodity cheese—for those lower down the economic ladder. Recent articles in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and The New York Times (requires registration) point up two programs that get fresh food and nutrition information where it’s needed most.

San Francisco restaurateur Larry Bains, whose Acme Chophouse was a pioneer in getting grass-fed, sustainably raised meat onto local menus, is in his second year running his Nextcourse program at the San Francisco County Jail. Teachers do side-by-side comparisons of farmers’ market and supermarket produce, showing how the locally grown food is almost always fresher and cheaper. Then, with a $5-per-person budget (and no knives), they work on preparing an entrée, a vegetable, and a salad, passing along information about marketing, nutrition, and budgeting. Says one program participant, “When I was in jail, I was thinking this was all bullshit. I can’t do that. It’s going to be too expensive. It’s just you white people blowing smoke up our ass. But I got out and now I’m going to the market every week and my kids love it.”

Up in Sonoma County, the Food for Thought pantry, established to support people living with HIV and AIDS, supplies more than 450 people in the area with lush organic produce grown in its own garden, built by gardeners from the nearby Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. Many recipients come in, not just to get their food boxes, but also to spend a few hours tending the heirloom tomatoes and rainbow chard. This is food as full-body sustenance, not just for the belly but the soul.

See more articles